TLC Celebrity Tattoo Artist Kat Von D Has a Fast-Paced Life

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 2009

Kat Von D strides into a bookstore in Lutherville, Md., on a rainy and overcast afternoon, looking like the wilder side of L.A. personified: Tall, thin, tattooed, electric, rock-star gorgeous. Black tights, three-inch heels on knee-length boots, a red bikini top under a black tank. Several rings, a cross-adorned necklace that drapes to her waist, red lipstick. Tattoos? Everywhere. Dark eye shadow, brown eyes, high cheekbones, standing maybe 6 feet in the heels.

Some 500 people are jammed into the aisles. They've been waiting hours for her to sign copies of her glossy bio and book of skin ink, "High Voltage Tattoo." They're craning necks and holding up cameras.

"Kat!" someone calls out.

Katherine Von Drachenberg is a 27-year-old testament to American possibility. She's a high school dropout who is the wildly popular host of the Learning Channel's "L.A. Ink" (3 million viewers per week, tops on the channel), the business entrepreneur who runs her own ultra-hip tattoo shop in Los Angeles, the style icon who has her own line of cosmetics at Sephora.

"She's not afraid to be who she is, and she's not afraid of what people think," says Rhianon Gingerich, 28, who brought her mother and her daughter along for the signing.

"Sexy as hell," says Kevin Reich, a heavily tattooed Baltimore City police officer.

"I like how she says her tattoos are everything she's been through," says 12-year-old Shannon Watson, nervously waiting her turn. Her little sister, Kayla, 7, is clutching a "Miss Kitty" purse in one hand and a copy of "High Voltage Tattoo" in the other.

How did this happen?

"Kathy is really who I am -- for friends and family, you know -- and Kat Von D is, for lack of a better term, a product," she says. She tends to pick at her fingernails, which are painted black. She is an extremely talented artist. She lives in what she calls "the Frankenstein Castle" in Los Angeles, a 1931 Gothic stone structure built to replicate the good doctor's home in the classic Hollywood horror film.

She blew into Baltimore about 5 a.m. She was aboard a tour bus with her current squeeze, Nikki Sixx, the 50-year-old bassist for Motley Crue. She set up her 30-stop book tour to track the band's gigs, so they can spend some time together.

We caught up with her just before noon, in an empty bar in a posh hotel by the harbor.

Right away, she tells us to be sure to speak up, as she's going deaf in one ear. So is Sixx. He perhaps from nearly three decades of playing heavy metal; she, her audiologist says, perhaps from leaning so close to her buzzing tattoo machine for 10 or more hours a day for more than a decade.

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